Ital Vital is a Way of LifeDec 30, 2021 11:51AM ● By Tara Spencer
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Being in Imani Murray’s presence is like drinking one of her creations—one is filled with a vitality that makes a person feel good.
The building exterior of her business, Ital Vital Living on 24th Street, does the same. The bright turquoise background is scattered with painted fruits and confetti. Greeting patrons at the drive-thru window of what was once The Cooler Sno-Balls shop is a portrait of a woman in a colorful head wrap with a bowl of fruit sitting atop it. The sprawling panorama was painted by her brother, Marcus Murray.
The mural represents the former Central High School student’s journey into veganism, which began in 2016 and was spurred by health troubles within her family. “It was really just motivation...what can I do to be healthy, and even what can I start doing for myself to be an example for my family so they could start being healthier, so we can all take care of ourselves and our bodies better?”
Those questions led her to explore a plant-based diet. She said her family already ate what most would consider healthy meals, with lots of vegetables, rice, and chicken. Her father was originally from Jamaica, so he would make jerk chicken and other well-seasoned dishes. “He was just a good cook,” Murray said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Like when you have a good cook...you can make healthy food good.”
That idea of making healthy food with flavor is one she clearly keeps in mind when making her own creations. She adds cardamom and ginger to many of her favorites, though she said she sometimes has to reign herself in on the ginger. “We love ginger,” she said of her family.
Her Jamaican roots were also an influence. Ital is derived from the word vital, and is part of the belief system of the Rastafari movement. One aspect of the belief is that one should eat what is grown in the earth around them in its pure form. But it’s not just eating healthy. “[It’s] your way of life, how you go about things,” Murray said. “Because it’s not just what the food is like, it’s what you put on your body...how you take care of yourself and stuff like that. So it all ties into ital.”
While starting her own business has taken up a lot of her time, Murray tries to make time for her other interests, such as roller skating and art, an interest that seems to run in the family. Her father, Neville Murray, was a director at Love’s Jazz and Arts Center and a painter whose work reflected his Caribbean roots. Her mother is a painter, graphic designer, and sketch artist who also plays a role as creative director for Ital Vital. Murray said in addition to the mural he created for her business, brother Marcus is a graffiti artist and illustrator. Her brother Nathan Murray prefers working with clay and ceramics. “It’s funny...a lot of them are focused on art right now and I’ve done art, but my focus now is Ital Vital Living,” she said. Murray’s artistic outlet now is creating juices, smoothies, and decorative smoothie bowls.
While Murray’s juices and smoothies are tasty and can certainly be filling, she realizes people like options. That’s why she partners with two other local, Black women-owned businesses, Nature’s Soul and Prepped by Lauren, offering their food products alongside her own.
Ital Vital carries protein balls from Nature’s Soul, which Murray described as “energy balls with protein and granola.” “They’re so good,” she added. “They’re addictive.” Her vegan options from Prepped by Lauren include a variety of salads and wraps, such as the chickpea wrap, which Murray said is “almost like a tuna salad without the tuna.”
Murray actually started documenting her health journey on YouTube, where interest in the smoothie bowls and juices she was creating for herself quickly grew. “She really blew up,” said Prepped by Lauren owner Lauren Neal. Once Ital Vital opened shop, Murray approached Neal about adding her food to the mix. “And I was like, ‘yeah, let’s do it!’”
Neal supplies Ital Vital with healthy, ready-to-go vegan meals she makes through her multifaceted food business. Like Murray, Neal also started out preparing healthy meals for her family members. Her grandmother, who recently passed away from congestive heart failure, needed heart-healthy meals. Neal’s mother, who was trying to balance caring for her own mother with her job as a teacher, had Type 2 diabetes.
At that time, Neal was spending a lot of time at home caring for her then-4-year-old son, so she offered to prepare healthy meals for the two women that they could eat when they needed. “My son has some digestive issues, so he has a lot of things that he can’t eat as well,” she said. “I was like, 'Let me just make you what I make him, but for an adult.’”
Neal said after finishing culinary school and having her baby boy, she realized that working in someone else’s kitchen wasn’t going to work for her. “I kind of put my dreams of having my own restaurant or business on the back burner and just kind of figured it would never happen,” she said. It was her mother who encouraged her to pursue meal prepping for others. “She had coworkers that were always asking her what she was eating, where she got it from,” Neal said.
After starting with a Google form on Facebook and 10 friends and family members signing up, Prepped by Lauren took off. “It was like super, super quick, and it just has kind of blown up since then,” Neal said. Besides the meal prep, she offers private chef sessions and catering. And of course, she has the partnership with Murray and Ital Vital.
Neal said the two women are essentially related. “Our family is very big and very complicated,” she added. “But basically, we’re all sisters.”
With Murray’s sister Latisha Taylor Burrell helping to handle the business side of Ital Vital, it’s clear the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in this family. “I didn’t always know I was going to be an entrepreneur at a young age,” Murray said. “That was never like, the plan.” Fortunately for Omaha, plans change, and now the 23-year-old has plans to expand.
“This is our first spot,” she said. “I would love to have another spot, get kind of a chain going on. I also really want to just grow—grow social media, grow my brand platform online, and build that so it can reach people internationally, outside of just Omaha.”
Visit italvitalliving.com for more information
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.